Applying for headship – the application form and beyond!

Advertisements for headteacher posts are seasonal,  appearing near the start of each term so applicants need to be prepared for a fair amount of work to secure an interview! Those hoping to secure a headship live their lives according to the time frame. When was the closing date? When are they shortlisting? When are the interviews being held? As someone who has been through this thinking process several times, I would like to discuss my experiences.

I completed NPQH in December 2011 and was keen to begin looking for headships straight away. I felt reasonably confident of securing one for September 2012; I have lots of teaching experience in a range of schools, I have significantly raised attainment in my current school, I have developed the school tracking system… the list goes on.

So, where to start? Obviously, I began by looking at the teaching vacancies pages of the county council website. I was delighted to see that there was a number of head teacher positions available in my area. So I was off to a good start! I arranged an appointment to look around the school that I wanted to apply for and was actually quite surprised to find that specific viewing times had been arranged up to ten potential candidates were being shown round.

I left having a good feeling and began the application form that night. Looking through all of the information in the pack was quite time consuming but did help to build on my visit to the school. Standard documents, it seems, are the school brochure, the latest Ofsted report (if it’s a good or outstanding school anyway), a person specification and a letter from the chair of governors persuading you to apply for the position.

I obviously expected to write a supporting letter but the person specification said that the letter should focus on how I had sustained achievement in the school. I felt quite confident about this. I felt I had had loads of experience in this area and diligently set about explaining what I had done. Having gone through NPQH, I believed I had a good idea as to the style the letter should have – ie. what action I had taken, the impact that the action had and evidence.

For the next few weeks I had a good feeling and fully expected to get an interview. My current head teacher showed me the reference he had written for me and it was very positive. I also felt that I had made a good effort on my supporting letter. So, I was very disappointed when I got my very first ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter! What had I done wrong? What had someone else done right?

Not to be deterred, I immediately set about  on my next application, going through much the same process outlined above. Now, I had vaguely remembered from filling in teacher application forms that I should never write a general supporting letter, but should tailor it to the school to which I was applying. Again, some weeks later I got another rejection letter.

I began to look for positions in the next county, although I knew that all head teachers in the area had some teaching commitment. I have never really agreed with this. I think that the workload would be so great you would end up doing neither job well. I eventually found what seemed like an ideal job in a very small school with a 0.4 teaching commitment.

Having filled in the county’s application form I was very happy when the Chair of Governors rang me to confirm that I had been selected for interview. Some days later, I received an itinery. The interview process seemed intense to say the least! It would take place over two days, during which time candidates would have a several short interviews on the different areas of headship. They would be required to teach a group of KS1 children and a class of KS2 children. They would also prepare and deliver a presentation on how to promote healthy school during the Olympics. And this was just day one! Those chosen to come back on  day two (I was!) faced an hour and a half formal interview with the governing body and an interview with the school council.

Again, I got ‘the feeling.’ I thought I had done rather well and that this was it! Again I was disappointed when the Chair of Governors phoned that evening to tell me I had been unsuccessful.

Being now a veteran of applying for headships, I can say from experience that it pays to go and look around schools before applying. You are going to spend a large part of your life living and breathing ‘your’ school – I don’t think this would be possible if you did not feel some affinity for it. Take in the surroundings – do staff and pupils seem happy and approachable? What do displays show about the vision of the school leadership? Take the opportunity to ask questions too. Many see this time as the first step of the interview process. Ask questions that are relevant to the post to get as much information as possible. Take the opportunity to find out how involved other stakeholders, such as governors and parents, are involved in the school.

As far as the application is concerned, it goes without saying that this needs to be top notch and really stand out. As one Educational Development Partner advised me, you need to be able to say how your experience matches  the school’s requirements. Is there anything in the school brochure or the most recent Ofsted report that seems to be a school priority that you could improve?

Another sound piece of advice was to write supporting letters in plain English that a lay person would understand – in other words, stay away from acronyms and educational jargon. Indeed, I was told to stay away from all language that the NCSL (sorry, National College of School Leaders) holds dear – sorry if that seems like a blasphemy to some!

I would also suggest writing an executive summary. I base these on the person specification supplied in application packs. I use the same tabulated structure (easy to do if you have an electronic version of the application pack) and add a column outlining how my experience meets all of the essential criteria.

Finally, if you do get to interview stage, approach the day or days with absolute confidence in what you are saying. I know this is often easier said than done, but if you have done your homework and found out as much information about the school in terms of its strengths and areas for development, this will be much more achievable.

I am still looking for a headship back in  my home county. I have sought a lot of advice on what I might be doing wrong. Our Educational Development Partner suggested a range of things (putting specific numbers into my supporting letter, saying what impact I had had, etc.) but I feel I have already done this. I no longer get down hearted when I receive rejection letters. They just make me more determined and I have developed the attitude that headship for me is around the corner, but the corner may be some way down the road…

Please submit your comments below.

Greg Hawman

Greg Hawman attended Teeside University and graduated with BA honours in History. He went on to complete PGCE at Durham University in 2002. He has taught for over in a range of primary schools in the North East and North Yorkshire. He has much experience of teaching in upper KS2 and has worked as a tutor and as a supply teacher. He has been a Deputy Head Teacher for four years and has a particular interest in whole school assessment and tracking. Greg completed NPQH in 2011 and is now looking for head teacher positions in the North East of England.

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  1. Thank you for this post. I have found it most helpful.

    I hope you have since been successful in attaining your first Headship.

    Kind regards.

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